So if I don’t want to be Muslim anymore…?

I guess if I am living in Malaysia, I’d be shit out of luck… from Straits Times – July 7, 2007

 

“Malaysian woman’s dilemma

  • Syariah Court frees Muslim-born woman from Islamic rehab centre
  • But she’s not allowed to change her religion or live with her Hindu husband

    By Carolyn Hong, Malaysia Bureau Chief

    A COMPLEX SITUATION: Mrs Revathi, seen here with daughter Diviya, was ordered to be placed in the care of her Muslim parents after her release on Thursday. She has vowed to remain a Hindu even after her six-month stay at an Islamic rehabilitation centre. — PHOTO: AFP

    SHAH ALAM – A MUSLIM-BORN woman married to a Hindu man, has been freed after six months of detention in an Islamic rehabilitation centre.

    But 29-year-old Revathi Masoosai’s tussle with Malaysia’s Islamic authorities to change her religion are not over even though the Malacca Syariah Court had ordered her release.

    She was ordered to be placed in the care of her Muslim parents after her release on Thursday and barred from living with her Hindu husband Suresh Veerappan, 29, who she married in 2004.

    Under Malaysian law, Muslims cannot marry non-Muslims.

    The couple’s 18-month-old daughter Diviya Dharshini was forcibly handed over to Mrs Revathi’s parents six months ago after being seized by the Islamic Religious Department in Malacca.

    It was Mrs Revathi’s parents who reported her marriage to Mr Suresh to the religious authorities.

    Mrs Revathi, whose Muslim name is Siti Fatimah Karim, now has to live with her parents and attend weekly religious counselling indefinitely.

    ‘Although I served 180 days, I still cannot convert out of Islam,’ said Mrs Revathi, who has vowed to remain a Hindu. ‘I wasted my time.’

    Mrs Revathi’s difficulties highlight the complexities surrounding the sensitive topic of Muslim conversion.

    Cases like hers are making worse the already strained race and religious relations in Malaysia.

    In May, the country’s apex court decided that Ms Lina Joy, a Malay woman who wanted to convert to Christianity, must apply to the Syariah Court for a certificate of apostasy in order to have ‘Islam’ deleted from her identity card.

    But those who apply to renounce Islam can be found guilty of apostasy, which is punishable by jail and a fine.

    Mr Tuah Atan, lawyer for the Malacca Islamic Religious Department, said Mrs Revathi could not return to her husband as their marriage was not legally recognised.

    They wed according to Hindu rites in March 2004, but did not register it because of the laws regarding Muslims marrying non-Muslims.

    Their daughter’s birth is also unregistered, as Mrs Revathi did not want her to be placed on record as a Muslim.

    Mrs Revathi told reporters yesterday that she will always be a Hindu despite the severe pressures placed on her during her time in the rehabilitation centre in Batang Kali, Selangor.

    She claimed she was placed in solitary confinement and that officials tried to make her attend religious classes, pray as a Muslim, eat beef which is forbidden by Hindus, and wear a headscarf.

    But she refused.

    ‘They say it’s a school, but it’s actually a prison,’ she said of the centre.

    Her husband had fought for her release, applying to the civil High Court to get her out of the rehabilitation centre.

    But with her release, the case was dismissed yesterday.

    In a June 15 letter to her husband, which was offered in court to support Mr Suresh’s application, Mrs Revathi claimed that officials threatened to hand over her baby to the welfare department.

    They also allegedly told her they could seize her thali – a wedding chain worn by married Hindu women.

    ‘In these 180 days, it seems like I’m living in prison and hell. They are not humane, even though they call themselves religious teachers.

    ‘They regard us with utter contempt,’ she wrote.

    Mrs Revathi has 14 days to appeal against the Syariah Court order that she stay with her parents, said her lawyer.

    She can also appeal against the court’s refusal to let her change her religion.

    carolynh@sph.com.sg

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